How can you see the atmosphere?According to NASA, you can see it by tracking tiny ‘aerosol particles’ carried on the wind, and it lets researchers see the currents in our atmosphere.A new NASA visualization follows sea salt, dust and smoke from July 31 to November 1, 2017, to reveal how these particles are transported across parts of the world and how they can help track weather events.Scroll down for more videoTracking aerosols over land and water from August 1 to November 1, 2017. Hurricanes and tropical storms are obvious from the large amounts of sea salt particles caught up in their swirling winds. The key along the bottom shows the color of the different aerosol particlesOne of the most noticeable things about the simulation is how far the particles can travel.For example, smoke from fires in the Pacific Northwest gets caught in a weather pattern and pulled all the way across the US and over to Europe.And hurricanes form off the West coast of Africa and travel across the Atlantic to make landfall in the US.The visualization also shows dust from the Sahara blow into the Gulf of Mexico.To understand the impacts of aerosols, scientists need to study the process as a global system.During the 2017 hurricane season, the storms were visible in the visualization because of the sea salt that is captured by the storms.Strong winds at the surface lift the sea salt into the atmosphere and the particles are incorporated into the storm.For example, in the visualization, Hurricane Irma is the first big storm that forms off the coast of Africa.As the storm spins up, the Saharan dust is absorbed in cloud droplets and washed out of the storm as rain.This happens with most of the storms, except for Hurricane Ophelia.Forming more northward than most of the storms, Ophelia traveled eastwards, picking up dust from the Sahara and smoke from large fires in Portugal.Hurricane Ophelia retained its tropical storm state farther northward than any system in the Atlantic, carrying the smoke and dust into the UK and Ireland.Computer simulations using NASA’s Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS), a family of mathematical models, allow researchers to see how different processes fit together and evolve as a system.Combined with data from NASA’s Earth observing satellites, the supercomputer simulations enhance scientific understanding of specific chemical, physical and biological processes.By using mathematical models to represent nature, researchers can separate the system into component parts and better understand the underlying physics of each.
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